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‘No easy fix’: Canada’s Suncor Energy faces overhaul after CEO exit

These translations are done via Google Translate
The Suncor Energy logo is seen at their head office in Calgary
The Suncor Energy logo is seen at their head office in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo

July 11 (Reuters) – Canada’s Suncor Energy (SU.TO) faces a long slog to fix its poor safety record and regain investor confidence, analysts said on Monday, after Chief Executive Mark Little resigned following another worker fatality at a company site.

Little stepped down as head of Canada’s third-largest oil producer on Friday, a day after a worker was killed at Suncor’s oil sands base plant in northern Alberta. read more

It was the fifth fatality at a Suncor site since 2019, when Little became CEO, and the thirteenth since 2014, by far the worst safety record among Canadian oil producers.

“This level of events is something we have never seen in the 25 years of covering the sector,” Phil Skolnick, an analyst at investment dealer Eight Capital, wrote in a note to clients.

“This is not just the CEO’s fault … Ultimately, we believe a meaningful overhaul will be needed; and we see that taking time and money.”

Little was already under pressure from U.S. activist investment firm Elliott Management, which in April disclosed a 3.4% stake in Suncor and called for a management overhaul, new board members and improved operating performance. read more

Elliott also highlighted Suncor’s poor safety record and its share price underperformance versus rival oil sands producers.

Neither Elliott nor Suncor immediately responded to requests for comment.

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Daniel Loeb’s investment firm Third Point also revealed a stake in Suncor in May, acquiring 3.5 million shares. read more

Capital Eight and brokerage Raymond James both downgraded Suncor’s stock on Monday. The company’s shares closed down 2.1% on the Toronto Stock Exchange at C$41.52.

Calgary-based Suncor, which is a also refiner and owns one of Canada’s largest retail fuel networks, named Kris Smith, executive vice president of downstream, as interim CEO while the board searches for a replacement for Little.

The next CEO will likely be hired from outside Suncor in a process that could take several months, said Laura Lau, chief investment officer at Brompton Group, a Suncor shareholder.

“I’d expect there to be some turmoil for a while,” Lau said. “Improving operations takes time and improving a culture takes even longer.”

National Bank analyst Travis Wood said a long-term cultural shift was needed across the 17,000-strong workforce.

“The size, scale and integrated nature of Suncor’s operations is another reason we do not believe the blame should fall on one person, leaving us to consider that additional executive changes will likely be required,” Wood said in a note.

“There is no easy fix.”

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